A new day for the privileged few

A new day for the privileged few

- in Fitzsimon File

These are heady days if you are a wealthy individual or work for a wealthy special interest that wants something from state government, a tax break, an end to a regulation, a change in how state contracts are awarded.

It may not be a foregone conclusion that you can buy yourself what you need, but in light of recent court decisions and the behavior of the current General Assembly, it’s likely that you can get what you want with significant and well-placed campaign contributions and a few well-heeled lobbyists to work out the details.

Normally you wouldn’t be able to buy access to legislative leaders now, as the General Assembly is taking a break in its long session before coming back to town in a couple of weeks to debate redistricting and changes in election laws.

But House leaders asked for and received an advisory opinion from the State Board of Elections that said lawmakers could raise money from PACs if there are at least ten days between the recess or end of the session and when lawmakers reconvene.

That was all the House leaders needed, so now you can whisper a few words in key legislators’ ears this week at a downtown Raleigh restaurant if you fork over $500. If you want to have a longer conversation and curry more favor, you can be a sponsor of the event for $5,000.

If you think that’s an overly cynical view, consider a few of the points raised recently by Democracy North Carolina about the apparent relationship between money and policy this legislative session.

A food wholesaler’s PAC gave $15,000 to the Senate Republican Caucus and lawmakers passed legislation that allowed the company to keep its $2 million tax break even though it is laying off workers instead of hiring new ones like company officials promised when the tax break was granted.

The consumer loan industry gave more than $100,000 to Republicans in 2010 and the House responded by passing legislation to allow them to charge much higher interest rates and fees. That came over the objections of military leaders who were worried about the predatory loan companies preying on soldiers.

The PAC for John Deere & Co. gave more $100,000 in 2010. The company was rewarded with changes to the state’s contracting regulations to make it easier for company officials to sell to the state.

There are plenty more examples but you get the idea. Money not only talks, it legislates. And it doesn’t look like it will stop anytime soon.

This week’s House Republican fundraiser comes just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an important part of Arizona’s public financing program.

The decision prompted renewed calls from the Right to end the public financing experiment altogether in North Carolina, leaving all elections once again for sale to the highest, special interest bidder.

It comes on the heels of last year’s Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations to spend money directly and anonymously on elections and it comes as North Carolina lawmakers are considering major reductions in funding for oversight and enforcement of campaign finance reporting and disclosure laws.

That’s all part of freedom, according to the folks at the right-wing tanks, and it is music to the ears of wealthy special interests that keep opening their checkbooks to make investments in campaigns for which they expect a return.

That’s not the way democracy is supposed to work, that people with the most money have the most political power. But that is exactly the way it works these days.

You can get a preview of the next tax breaks that will be granted or the next regulations that will be abolished by watching to see who pays their $500 or $5,000 to walk into the Raleigh restaurant this week to talk to Republican House leaders.

The theme of the fundraiser is “a new day for North Carolina,” and things are looking brighter for those with the money to buy the tickets and the access they bring.

It is a new day indeed, a new day for those who can pay.


About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.